When I was a kid my parents owned about 20 albums, and they played them over and over again: Frank Sinatra, Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass, Ferrante and Teischer, The Ray Conniff Singers, Andy Williams, etc. It was a representative if small collection of what suburban adults were listening to in the mid-60s. The album that didn’t make sense, that never quite fit in with the rest of the collection, was Roger Miller’s Golden Hits. Naturally, that was the album that I listened to over and over again. Those songs may be imprinted in my DNA.
Roger Miller was, ostensibly, a country singer. That’s how he was categorized and marketed, and that’s how the Country Music Hall of Fame considers him. But to my pre-adolescent ears he simply wrote funny songs. Aside from his biggest hit “King of the Road,” which still doesn’t sound like a country song to me, his best-known songs were novelty numbers full of goofy lyrics. “You can’t rollerskate in a buffalo herd,” one of his songs proclaimed, and I never doubted it, although I sang along like a fanboy. Another one announced, “Roses are red, violets are purple, sugar’s sweet and so's maple surple." As a ten-year-old, I was enthralled by the poetic genius. It was a neat dozen songs in about half an hour, and it was my favorite childhood album.
A few weeks ago I picked up the expanded version of Roger Miller’s Greatest Hits. There were 20 songs this time, and at least a few of them sounded like country tunes. One of them was on the original Golden Hits from my childhood, but it was the song I always skipped in favor of the novelty tunes. This time I listened:
Two broken hearts,
Lonely, lookin' like houses
Where nobody lives.
Two people each havin' so much pride inside,
Neither side forgives.
The angry words spoken in haste,
Such a waste of two lives.
It's my belief pride is the chief cause
In the decline in the number of husbands and wives.
A woman and a man, a man and a woman.
Some can, and some can't, and some can't.
Maybe I knew even as a kid. There might have been a reason why I skipped that song. Pride is as good a reason as any, and Roger had that right. Other contributing factors might have included adultery, alcoholism, and mental illness. At any rate, I listened to these songs from my childhood and wondered what in the world had drawn me to them in the first place. But not “Husbands and Wives.” I love that song, and now I listen to it again and again. Next week would have been my parents’ 57th anniversary. They’re both long gone. They were both long gone even when they were alive.